*note: if you plan to see the show, there are a few spoilers.
Not only is Burkett a master of puppetry, but he is a master listener and a very cool-headed thinker. Burkett has an extraordinary memory, an uncanny ability to incorporate new material into his show at a moment's notice, and a profound sense of story. Each skit attached to each marionette is written and rehearsed in advance, but it is Burkett who chooses what to use, when to use it, and how to incorporate different snippets of different skits into what is happening with the audience at any given time: no two shows are the same. He sometimes surprises himself, but the audience is right there with him and revels in the intimacy that that spontaneity creates.
Burkett strolls onto the stage sporting an enormous mustache and quickly points out that you can support his Movember campaign by having your photo taken with one of his marionettes and dropping $20 into his Tim Horton's coffee container.
Burkett addresses the audience with a disclaimer that the show they are about the see is, “pure, meticulous, nonsense” and mounts his platform to perform an elaborate puppet strip-tease. Five or six layers of clothing come off one at a time, in time to the music, all executed by the marionette below.
This sets the tone for the show, which does not shy away from sex and appropriately placed profanities, and helps explain the show's age restriction.
Burkett does not shy away from politics either, Rob Ford making a verbal appearance more than once, and no city or cultural organization within it is beyond comedic reproach. Vancouver and Toronto are favourites, as is Burkett's home town Calgary. Burkett does not miss a beat and keeps it as local as possible.
The names of the marionettes alone incite laughter. With the introduction of Schnitzel we find the heartbeat of the piece. Schnitzel is a child with a small daisy growing out of the top of her head and a strong desire to grow wings and fly. The audience buys into this sweet girl so much that when she struggles and fails there is a collective, sympathetic groan that fills the room. We meet a gay rabbit, a guitar playing singer, a twerking granny, and a cow in Jimmy Choos, all with their own unique voice and personality.
Burkett does not hesitate to break the fourth wall when he wants to get closer to the audience to tell a story or have them participate in a skit. He has a man ascend the stage to manipulate one of the easier marionettes in a piano sketch with Burkett's transvestite lounge singer. He has another pretend he is a eunuch in another skit with none other than the sexually charged, Miss Esmé Massengill. Miss Esmé Massengill is a has-been super star who insists on being properly addressed as a diva. She walks the audience through the three critical “must dos” and soon has them eating out of her hand.
Once the audience is sufficiently buzzing Burkett changes the pace with the introduction of Edna Rural. Edna is recently widowed and tells us a story about her husband Stanley and a fortune cookie that brings tears to our eyes.
Burkett then lightens the show with the introduction of Murray the apprentice devil who negotiates for our souls and explains the process of becoming a devil.
The final bit of audience participation comes with the introduction of Jolie Jolie, another faded diva, who sings in a hilarious vibrato voice to the young man she's placed in charge of conducting the puppet orchestra.
The show wraps up with the return of Schnitzel in her pyjamas and carrying her stuffed bear. Schnitzel shows us how she can manipulate her bear to look like he's dancing: a marionette making another marionette do tricks. Amazing.
Schnitzel tells us she has finally found her wings. She explains that she grew to love us and when that happened she felt a little flutter in her heart. That's when she knew she'd grown her wings. They were just on the inside. “My wings were inside of me the whole time. You gave me these wings to fly.”
The show is a brilliant blend of satire, song, and story-telling but it wouldn't be fair to end without mentioning the incredible job that John Alcorn did with the music, lyrics, and sound design and its actual orchestration on the day; Kim Crossley's beautiful costume design; Robin Fisher and Camellia Koo's shoes and accessories; all the marionette and marionette control builders; and all the others who helped in putting this show together.
For tickets and show times click on the Cultch.